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American Chronicle Book Cover

FDU Professor Chronicles the Century

In celebration of the millennium, Yale University Press has just published American Chronicle: Year by Year Through the Twentieth Century by Lois Gordon, professor of English, and her husband, Alan Gordon, a psychiatrist. Essayist Roger Rosenblatt has written an introduction.

“Like most Americans, we feel blessed to live in this country,” says Prof. Gordon. She likes to quote founding father John Adams: “America was designed by Providence for the theater on which man was to make his true figure, on which science, virtue, liberty, happiness and glory were to exist in peace.”

Her book, 1,000 pages long and with more than 1,000 photos, is a unique year-by-year record of American life since 1900. In a highly readable and browsable form, it presents the significant news, radio, television, movie, popular and classical music, theater, art, dance, literary, science and technology, sports and fashion highlights. In addition, facts and figures, headlines, quotes, ads, fads, firsts and anecdotes round-out each year, along with lively, comprehensive decade introductions.

Gordon says, “The century was immensely rich and varied — a time of great energy and productivity, as well as often fierce struggle for the ideals of human liberty. This was the era of American ascendancy, when America not only took a leading role on the world stage but also staked its claim to pre-eminence in the arts and sciences — in the various arenas of human endeavor.”

“In virtually
all fields
of human endeavor,
this has been
the American century. ”
— Lois Gordon

The section on the ’50s runs the gamut from Joe McCarthy, “I Like Ike” and the Salk vaccine to the “Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” (who gave his well-girdled wife the rewards of glittering new appliances and mambo lessons, and who followed the decade’s buttoned-down mores), and Oscar Levant’s quip, “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.”

“Our hope in writing the book,” says Gordon, was “to convey the flowering of America and the unique imprint of each year. We hoped to evoke, enrich and expand the contexts in which most Americans, their parents and their grandparents have lived their lives. We hoped to create an American diary, as well as the diary of each one of us.”

In response to the question of what was most significant during the century, Gordon says, “The following comes to mind: scientific advances in medicine (antibiotics, vaccines); physics (relativity, atomic structure, space exploration and observation, the microchip); technology (cars, planes, nuclear weapons, space ships); communication (radio, movies, television, cyberspace); biochemistry (genetic engineering, cloning); political events (the triumph of the American way: democracy, free-market economics, social welfare and equal rights initiatives); social trends (increasing gender and racial equality, widespread availability of information and entertainment — the global village); and the creation of uniquely American art forms (the majestic skyscraper, jazz, rock, abstract expressionism, pop art, musical theater). In virtually all fields of human endeavor, this has been the American century.”

American Chronicle has been chosen as a History Book-of-the-Month Club selection.

Return to “Faculty Look at the Century”

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